Michael's Dispatches



2011-09-24-110819cc1000Afghanistan: Army Medic helps to bag up an Afghan Soldier who was just blown up. Our medics do not wear Red Crosses. They carry rifles.

23 November 2011

Army Dustoff MEDEVAC helicopter crews have been performing stellar work in Afghanistan. When troops are wounded, the Dustoffs go into hostile territory often while taking ground fire. Most interesting: they go in unarmed.

The helicopters are emblazoned with the Red Cross, and so according to the Geneva Conventions they are not allowed to carry offensive weapons. Just what constitutes an offensive weapon is another line of discussion, but the bottom line is that Dustoffs do not carry machine guns.

More interesting is that the Red Cross is one of the symbols used in the Crusades.  After years of throwing around the COIN acronym while pretending we have learned something about Counterinsurgency, we still fly around Afghanistan in CrusaderCopters.

The Air Force Pedro rescue helicopters are not burdened with the Red Cross, and so they carry two .50 caliber machine guns. The U.S. Marines and British Army also don’t burden themselves with the Red Cross, nor are there the World War II-type scenes with medics wearing crosses on their sleeves. The medics are armed. In fact, some medical crews working in Kabul are armed even while in the operating room.

The Taliban and other enemies in Afghanistan do not subscribe to the Geneva Conventions. They try to shoot down any and all helicopters, and sometimes they succeed. If you ask an Afghan what the Red Cross means, he’ll likely say it’s a symbol of Christianity — and in that regard, it might actually draw fire.  This poster describing evil symbols was found hanging on a wall in an Afghan village.  Most of the symbols are crosses.

There are numerous reasons why the Dustoffs should remove the Red Cross. We’ve been plagued with helicopter shortages in Afghanistan since the beginning of the war. When Dustoffs perform rescue missions, they must have armed top cover, often in the form of an Apache helicopter. By comparison, the Air Force Pedro rescue helicopters do not need top cover because they carry machine guns. And so in addition to adding more stresses to our helicopter fleet, the necessity to have top cover can lead to delays in MEDEVAC.

In September, I videotaped such a delay after an IED strike. The most wounded soldier was a triple amputee.  Another soldier was deaf from the blast. A Dustoff crew was stationed probably two to three minutes away at Forward Operating Base Pasab. You can sometimes see the crews at Pasab running to start up a Dustoff helicopter.  The Dustoff was parked about 200 meters from my tent.  If it takes the Dustoff seven minutes to launch and three minutes to get to the LZ, they could have picked up the patients in about 10 minutes.

The hospital at Kandahar Airfield was about 13 minutes away, and so this means the patients could have been at the hospital in about 25 minutes. Instead, it took 65 minutes.

The Army claims it took 59 minutes, but they don’t start the clock until after a “9-line” casualty report has been called up. The Golden Hour doesn’t start when the 9-line goes up; it starts when the bomb explodes. In any case, 59 minutes is a lot longer than 25, and this delay was caused because the Dustoff needed Apache top cover.

The triple amputee was very much alive and talking, but you could hear him fading as the minutes ticked by. His buddies were saying he was going to live. The commander said to me that he was going to live, but as the minutes dragged by the soldiers became frustrated with the delay. We were sitting on a landing zone vulnerable to enemy fire, and there was little doubt the enemy knew where we were. In addition to endangering the wounded with delays, the delay also provided the enemy time to prepare to shoot down a rescue helicopter, or to attack troops who would be in the open on the LZ.

An Air Force Pedro pilot with 420 combat missions worth of experience read this article for accuracy and he responded:

“Pedros fly in a two ship formation for several reasons, mutual support, both with fires and mission management, and added capacity. In a dynamic and inaccurate threat environment we may launch on one Cat A, and arrive to discover additional survivors (or, God forbid, Heroes). This happened often, but as an example one of my missions in the “Cat Triangle” SE of Bastion, I was launched to rescue a Brit double amputee. 30 sec from the zone a second IED detonated and rendered a second Brit as a double amputee. Both Pedro’s effectively split and worked individual rescues while maintaining each others “back” — we minimized the time in the zone and got the survivors back as rapidly as possible. In my opinion two armed Dustoffs are better for the fight than one unarmed Dustoff and an Apache.”

If the Dustoffs were armed, there would have been no delay. So why does the Army hide behind Geneva Conventions when the Air Force, Marines, and British do not?  It’s not about Geneva, but about who controls the Dustoff helicopters. It’s not about the “moral high ground.” The crosses have been used as a crucifix to ward off change within the military.

Some Army officers will attempt to confuse laymen by slapping the “Geneva Conventions” card on the table.  There are two categories of people who will say we are legally or morally obligated to sport Red Crosses on our helicopters.  The first category is the uninformed.  This dispatch is written for the uninformed yet smart-minded people who, when presented with the evidence, will make a good decision.  The second category consists mostly of a small number of Army officers who are lying.  They have a political dog in this fight and they are willing to sacrifice combat readiness and troops’ lives to maintain the status quo.  These people are disgraceful and I make no effort not to offend them.  They should be discharged from the Army.

To be sure, it will be difficult to find senior NCOs or officers from the combat arms who will say that it’s a good idea to send unarmed troops into combat while marking them as defenseless.

Let’s number the problems, any one of which is enough to take off the crosses:

1)    Sending unarmed troops into combat is unwise
2)    Marking them as unarmed is tantamount criminal
3)    Delays in MEDEVAC leave wounded troops bleeding on battlefields
4)    Creates additional stresses on overstretched helicopters
5)    CrusaderCopters create a “COIN fail”

If the Army insists on sending defenseless CrusaderCopters into combat, it should use common sense by not alerting the enemy that the helicopter is unarmed.

Further Reading:

RED AIR: America’s MEDEVAC Failure (circumstances behind a MEDEVAC failure)

Fool’s Gold & Troops Blood (Video of combat MEDEVAC failure)

Golden Seconds (More on MEDEVAC failures)

Pedros (Air Force Search and Rescue)

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    S. · 10 years ago
    I doubt Yon is an idiot.

    We should just arm the Crusader Copters and blast hymns and opera or maybe Judas Priest.....of course that might hurt people's sensibilities.

    Tailgunner Sam
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Knowzittobetrue · 10 years ago
    To clarify Yon's ramblings. The Medic in the photo headlining this dispatch is NOT part of an Army Dustoff MEDEVAC helicopter crew. And he is armed because medics go out on foot patrols with the rest of the Troops, including Afghan soldiers. He is not wearing a Red Cross to identify that he is a Medic because they don't like to advertise that to the enemy. I agree Dustoff MEDEVAC's should not be marked with a Red Cross, and that they should be armed. Yon, you have already brought this to the attention of those who need to make the decision to change how MEDEVAC's operate in appropriate ways. At this point, you're beating a dead horse and preaching to the choir by continuing to repeat it in your dispatches. Step up to your next challenge.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Denn7is · 10 years ago

    I appreciate all you've done, telling us the truth.

    God only knows the full value of your service.

    If your heart (and I sense it is) is leading you to report the truth about what's happening here, then by all means continue to listen to that still small voice.

    God also knows the truth is a rare thing, and much needed everywhere.

    Vaya con Dios,

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sgtstriker · 10 years ago
    I know that some of you were wondering.....

    Acronym Definition
    COIN Counter Insurgency
    COIN Coordination, Organizations, Institutions, and Norms in Agent Systems (workshop)
    COIN Counterinsurgency Operations
    COIN Community of Interest Network
    COIN Conference on Optical Internet
    COIN Counterinsurgency Aircraft
    COIN County of Oxford Integrated Network
    COIN Clinical Oncology Information Network
    COIN Community Online Information Network
    COIN Coalition of Independent Nationals (Fiji political party)
    COIN Composite Organic-Inorganic Nanoparticle
    COIN Client Oriented Information System (Colorado Department of Human Services’ eligibility database)
    COIN Customer Order and Invoicing System
    COIN Composites Optimized by Infusion through Nanotubes
    COIN California Organization Investment Network (Sacramento, CA)
    COIN Co-Operative Bank Information Network
    COIN Center of Influence Networking
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mr Ryden · 10 years ago
    See Michael, this is why you are needed in Afghanistan. No other reporter would ever think of bringing this up, if not for anything else then for the risk they run of seeing their embedment terminated. And even if they'd be willing to take that risk few would listen to them, either because they are just normal reporters, or because people would say that they didn't know what they were talking about due to a lack of military experience. You have the experience, and you've got the balls to challenge authority on these matters. Surely that means that you are capable of doing more good in Afghanistan than you are on the Mexican border?
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas · 10 years ago
    As a former two tour helicopter pilot in Vietnam, I totally agree with Yon and his argument! The enemy we are facing is not only our insurgent enemy, they are our religious enemy. As such they hate us and want to kill us. Thus, we need to insure the red cross is GONE! Insurgents are not soldiers, they are terrorists and as such they don't give a damn who they kill, as long as they are on the other side. The Geneva Convention was designed to reduce atrocities between declared combatants a LONG TIME AGO!! It no longer applys! If you don't believe that what do you say about 9-11-01?

    I am sick and tired of our US military playing political games at the expense of our men and women who are placing their lives on the line. Not are they doing it once, but over and over and over again! Grow up senior officers! Give up you little "empires" and "phifdoms"! If you can't do that then get the hell out of the military! We don't need you.
    Bandit 2 from Vietnam.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Neil · 10 years ago
    AC/DC - HELLS BELLS for sound, miniguns on both sides, maybe 666 so some other nonsense painted on them. They should be armed to the teeth and playing for keeps, the enemy should fear them. Officers in an army at war, who play politics for career enhancement at the cost of warrior's lives, should be fired on the spot. REMFs most likely.

    Give em hell and never let the bastards get you down, you're our only voice - please stay at it and keep us informed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    martin woodhead · 10 years ago
    If you don't want to arm the helicopters stick the RED CRESCENT on them might work and be a COIN success.
    although possibly upset the more goon-bat christian type.
    Its the cultural appropriate symbol and legal under the Geneva accords.
    although you'd have thought after 10 years of war somebody would have noticed this :sad:
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chipper · 10 years ago
    Thanks for this Mr. Yon. You're doing a great job of giving the America public the truth from a "Boots on the Ground" perspective. Please, keep up the good work, be safe and God Bless America.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Sammymac · 10 years ago
    Skip the Red Cross when the enemy doesn't respect it and use unmarked, armed choppers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dan Selley · 10 years ago
    If something is right it will happen. Arming Dustoffs and letting them launch when they hear the radio trafic and not waiting until the 9-line will save lives. It's a simple concept and it's right. It'll happen.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ted Thomas · 10 years ago
    Mr. Yon,

    Your argument sounds reasonable. Is the Army so misguided and insular that they not only have no "taxpayer facing" blogs on which to rebut your arguments, but they also have not one person to comment on your blog?

    What happened to the triple amputee mentioned above?
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon · 10 years ago
      Mr. Thomas,

      He died. Please see the video under "Fool's Gold and Troops' Blood." Also read "Red Air."

      Thank you,

      Michael Yon
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Leyla Najma · 10 years ago
    Knowzittobetrue, I think you are the one rambling. And since Michael is the one out there dealing with it , while you are not, I think he knows more about what he's doing then you!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Antun · 10 years ago
    How about the White House website where you can initiate a petition, and once enough signatures are garnered, it goes before POTUS, then Congress? Can we not do this? I know between your website and my FB shares, we should easily have enough "signatures" to constitute a valid petition.

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